Larnaca, A historical Survey

The modern town of Larnaka which succeeded the13th century BC city of Kition/ Citium, took its name from the ancient tombs and sarcophagi ("larnax' in Greek) on which it was built.

The very heart of the medieval city was a tomb, the traditional grave of Lazarus, Christ's friend who, after his resurrection, lived for another thirty years before dying and being buried here.

Larnaka has been an important sea-port on the ancient routes of trade since the dawn of History.

It shipped timber to the Pharaohs when Cyprus was covered with forests, copper to the Bronze Age foundries, fine salt to the world of antiquity and later silk, cotton and pigments.

But Larnaka's greatest contribution was to the world of thought with its most distinguished son, the philosopher Zeno, born at Kition in 333 BC and founder of the Stoic philosophy.

He created a complete philosophical system according to which the only real good thing is virtue and the only real evil is moral weakness. Everything else, including poverty, pain, death is trivial. Since nobody can deprive the wise man of his virtue he is always in possession of the only good thing and therefore happy. The happiness of man, he taught, was devotion to an inner universal Spirit. He should live an austerely ethical life in harmony with the inner Spirit.

It is strange that so austere a philosopher should have been a native of Larnaka. Especially if one happens to visit the town fifty days after Easter at the festival of Cataclysmos. The church has consecrated it with this name in memory of Noah's salvation from the Flood. Then, the town bursts into a vast funfair, the famous promenade vanishes under a double rank of stalls and people are simply happy to merge into a warm flood of humanity, sprinkling each other with water, singing, dancing, gazing, eating and drinking. Music and poetry competitions are part of these celebrations, the climax of which are the "tsattismata", the poetry battles in improvised iambics, weaving between irony and buffoonery. The atmosphere is reminiscent of Aristophanes rather than Zeno, the Stoic.

In the present issue of "Cyprus Today" four major articles offer information about Larnaka throughout the ages, about the events and people that marked its development. Among the other topics covered by the review, special reference is made to the "Lefkara laces" and "tsiattista" as elements of our Intangible Cultural Heritage whose maintenance is a guarantee for continuing creativity.

Larnaka is one of the most ancient continually inhabited towns of Cyprus.

According to Genesis, the first Book of the Old Testament, Larnaka was founded by Kittim, the great grandson of Noah, the son of Jovan who came to Cyprus after the deluge. Kittim was therefore the biblical name of Larnaka which, starting from the 13th century BC was known as Kition, in Latin Citium.

But human presence can be proved much earlier in the Larnaka area: there is a Pre-Neolithic site (10.000 - 8.200 BC) on the river Tremithos near the village of Agia Anna just a few kilometers from Larnaka, and the most well-known Neolithic site of Choirokitia (8.200-3.900 BC), considered the first urban settlement in Europe developed on the sides of Maroni and Vasilopotamos, about 25 kilometers from Larnaka. Excellent pieces of handmade Neolithic tools as well as findings at the site of ancient Kition of the Chalcolithic Period (3.900-2.500 BC) are displayed at the Archaeological District Museum and at the Pierides Museum in Larnaka.

During the Bronze Age (2.500-1.050 BC), ports were necessary for the trading of copper and other products of the island with the important civilizations of the Mediterranean. Larnaka was one of the first ports of Cyprus and trade exchanges flourished. There is rich evidence of the contacts with Egypt, the Aegean, the Minoans of Crete, the Hittites and the civilizations of the Syro-Palestinian coast. During the second millennium BC the trade and religious connections of the town with the Pharaoh civilization are especially intense.

Larnaka was colonized by Mycenaeans in the thirteenth century BC, but declined like many other Mediterranean towns, by about 1000 BC. It emerged again as Kition two centuries later, re-established by the Phoenicians and resumed its role as the port exporting copper from rich deposits at Tamassos and elsewhere in the eastern Troodos. After the Assyrian conquest of Cyprus which lasted from 709- 670 BC, the City Kingdom becomes autonomous again and its commercial and naval power increased impressively until the Persian conquest of 546 BC. During this period of great prosperity, the Kingdom is allowed self-rule. It is also allowed to cut silver coinage but it is obliged to support staunchly the Persians. The ships of the town fought on the side of the Persians against Egypt and Greece but in 490 BC, at the naval battle of Salamis, the Cypriot crews are blamed for the defeat and the King of Kition is executed.

The Athenian League attempted repeatedly to free Cyprus from Persian rule. In 450 BC, the Athenian general Kimon died at sea defending the city of Kition in a major battle with the Persians. The famous motto "και νεκρός ενίκα" (even in death he was victorious) refers to the fact that on his death bed he urged his officers to conceal his death from both their allies and the Persians. When the fleet raised the siege, the force retreated in safety "under the command of Kimon" who had been dead for thirty days!

When in 411 BC, Evagoras became King of Salamis and tried to unify all of Cyprus under his rule, the kingdoms of Kition, Amathus and Soloi refused to join. In 381 BC, Evagoras lost a sea battle against the Persians in the waters of Kition. Persian influence only ended in 329 BC when Alexander the Great succeeded to defeat them on all fronts and Kition lived its last period as an autonomous City Kingdom. The famous sword of Alexander the Great, an incomparable artwork, was a gift given by the King of Kition, Poumiathon, during their first encounter in Asia Minor in 332 BC. The sword which bears the three crowns of the royal dynasties of Kition, Idalion and Tamassos is exhibited at the Vergina Tombs Museum, near Thessaloniki in Greece.

In the rivalry of Alexander's generals over the rule of Cyprus, Ptolemy defeated Antigonus in 312 BC. The victor punished the city because of its alliance with his rival, Antigonus. Ptolemy demolished the cyclopean walls of the town which also protected the port and executed King Poumiathon. His death marks the end of the Phoenician rule of Kition which had lasted for five centuries.

Kition lived and prospered in the Hellenistic times of the Ptolemaic Empire of Egypt. Many important figures of the ancient world claimed Kition as their birthplace, among them Zeno, the stoic philosopher, the story teller Isigonos and the well-known physicians Apollonius and Apollodoros of Kition.

Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school of Philosophy was born in Kition about 336 BC. His father is said to have been a merchant in the town, and while engaged on a trading voyage in Levant, Zeno came across some writing by Socrates which fired his enthusiasm for philosophy. He went to Athens where he studied and later founded the Stoic school named after the Stoa, a colonnade of the Athenian Agora, where he lectured. He was held in great respect by the Athenians, but died by his own hand in 264 BC. Cyprus was incorporated in the Roman dominions by Augustus in 28 AD when all the Hellenistic states of the Near East were absorbed into the Roman Empire. The Roman statesman Cato was sent for this purpose to Cyprus. The Roman officials started their career by denuding the conquered lands of most of their wealth. Cyprus paid to the full its price in the Roman scheme of things.

Its introduction to the Roman Empire was made by the stately looting of Cato who confiscated Zeno's copper statue from Citium and shipped it to Rome with all the other treasures of the Ptolemaic State of Cyprus.

Christianity came early to Kition, traditionally in the person of Lazarus, the man resurrected by Christ at Bethany. When the Pharisees tried to dispose of the evidence of this miracle by casting Lazarus and his two sisters adrift in a leaky boat, he came ashore here where he was consecrated first Bishop of that see and founded the first bishopric of Kition. There he remained for more than thirty years and there he was buried. In later years, throughout the Byzantine period, the bishopric of Kition participated in most ecumenical synods.

During the Roman times, Kition had a large Jewish population increased by traders, settlers and workers as the Romans had given Herod the Great the right to exploit the mines in Cyprus. The Jewish presence in the town and in Cyprus was terminated by a Roman Decree in 116 AD which was given after a Jewish revolt was violently suppressed by the Romans. The city was subjected to repeated raids by the Arabs, the first Arab-Islamic attempt against Cyprus starting at Kition in 649 AD. In 694 AD, Um Haram, the holy helper and aunt of the prophet Mohamed visited Cyprus escorted by her husband and died because of a fall from her mule. She was buried near the salt lake. Her tomb is now in the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque, considered the second most important Moslem religious shrine after Mecca and a most revered pilgrim site.

According to 16th century historian Stephen Lusignan, Cyprus suffered no fewer than twenty-four Arab invasions over a period of three hundred years, the island being the pawn between the Arabs and the Byzantines. The land and the people suffered greatly and most of the early Byzantine monuments, works of art and other achievements were destroyed.

Among the few remaining is the 6th century AD Church of Angeloktisti in Kiti, nearby Larnaka. By the end of the 9th century, a church was built over the tomb of Saint Lazarus commissioned by Emperor Leo VI the Wise.

The church of Saint Lazarus is one of the most important Byzantine surviving monuments and a landmark for the town of Larnaka. The church was restored in the 17th century, but the plan of construction is probably very much the same as that of the original building.

A number of Corinthian capitals were reused in the construction of the walls and piers, and the church has a graceful campanile, one of the few permitted by the Turks on the island.

The body of Saint Lazarus was carried to Constantinople and thence to Marseille but the tomb of the saint can still be seen. It consists of a marble sarcophagus placed behind the iconostasis beneath the floor of the sanctuary; a short flight of steps leads down to it.

During the third crusade, King Richard the Lionheart of England defeated Alexios Comnenus, the last Byzantine Cyprus ruler in 1190 and occupied the island. His fleet anchored outside the city's castle, built by the Byzantines. At Kition he met Guy de Lusignan, the French nobleman from South France and powerful crusader leader. As King Richard could not rule Cyprus, he first sold it to the Knights of the Templar and then to his friend Guy de Lusignan. This brought to an end the eight centuries of Byzantine era.

The Lusignan Frankish Kingdom lasted for three centuries, until 1486. It is during this period that Kition is also called by the French "L'Arnica, which is the name of the plant that covered large areas until recently, and eventually Larnaka, after the Greek word "larnax", meaning sarcophagus, perhaps because of the vast numbers discovered in the area. Larnaka was also known as Salinas (salt lake) as it was the major port for the export of salt, which was massively produced here.

According to legend, the salt lake was miraculously made. Fra Sariano from Venice visited Larnaka in 1484 and was told how the place came to being. He relates: "the whole place was planted with vines, and as St. Lazarus passed by he asked from those who kept the vineyards a few grapes for the love of God.

The alms were refused him, and he asked what was in the basket that hung nearby. They told him it was salt whereas it was full of grapes. Then he laid a curse on them and said 'May all these vineyards turn to salt'. And so it befell; from that hour the vines dried up and every year the water is turned to salt.

These Salinas are most miraculous because the rain that falls collects without any art of man in a space a mile in circuit and becomes most perfect salt, white as snow, hard as stone, four fingers thick and sweet as violets. And such quantity is formed that were it all collected it would furnish salt in abundance for the whole of Italy."

Between 1373 and 1464, when Famagusta was captured by the Genovese, Larnaka served the Kingdom as its major port and the King refortified the castle for better protection. In 1489, Caterina Cornaro, the last Lusignan Queen of Cyprus abdicated in favour of Venice after the sudden death of her husband. The Venetians ruled Cyprus until 1571 when the Ottoman fleet landed a strong army in Larnaka.

The Venetians increased the revenue from the exploitation of the Larnaka salt lake trading it overseas. The Proveditor General, Bernard Sagredo mentions that in 1585, the proceeds from the sale of salt amounted to 300,000 ducats that is a little less than half a million sterling. They undertook the building of a network of watchtowers around the Larnaka bay for the protection of the population against pirates and the imminent Ottoman attack.

When this eventually happened in 1570, the Ottoman forces landed at Salinas near Larnaka on 3rd of July without meeting any resistance. Salinas was probably chosen as it is almost equidistant from Nicosia and Famagusta, the next targets, thus confusing the defence by making the object of the next assault a matter of guesswork. Mustapha Pasha remained for three weeks in his Salinas camp, making preparations for the attack which came on 25th July outside Nicosia. Eventually, Cyprus passed under Ottoman rule in 1571 when the besieged fortified towns of Nicosia, Kyrenia and Famagusta were captured.

During the Ottoman rule, Larnaka became the most important port of the island. The fort was rebuilt by the Turks in 1625 and was used as police barracks and prison. All foreign consuls were based in Larnaka and all eighteenth century travellers make reference to this foreign colony. Its members seem to have lived a pleasant and easy life and were very touchy about the order of precedence and kept up an almost fantastic formality. Captain Light, who came to Cyprus in 1814 says: "I was often amused by the assumed dignity of the different representatives of European nations in Larnaka, where the Austrian, Neapolitan, French and Spanish consuls had their residence, and where the etiquette of precedence was pushed to a degree not known in our own country: all except the French consul were engaged in trade; and of course their own interest prevailed over that of the country they represented." On 1748, Bekir Pasha built in Larnaka an aqueduct which is one of the few public works ever undertaken by the Ottoman Administration in Cyprus during their three hundred year rule. In 1821, Kuchuk Mehmet, Governor of Cyprus, under the pretext of taking preventive measures against any revolt by the Cypriotsν in support of the Greek War of Independence, or because of sheer greed, ordered the execution of all Church prelates and notables of Cyprus.

Four thousand soldiers from Acre landed in Larnaka, marching through the town and firing at the national flags of the consulates.

A reign of terror followed: 486 leading Greek Cypriot figures from all over the island were executed starting from the Archbishop and Bishops including Meletios of Kition.

A Swedish priest, Jacob Berggren, who visited Cyprus in 1821 after the massacres notes: "The Panayia was everywhere covered in black, many houses lay empty and splashed with blood, many Europeans had departed to Christian lands and Mr. Peristianis, the Swedish Consul, had sent his family to Trieste. Almost every day was marked with executions and murders and whenever I went I saw executioners with hands covered in blood." It took many years for the people to overcome those tragic events but the proclamation of Greek independence raised new hopes within the Cypriots.

The cession of Cyprus to Britain was greeted with enthusiasm by the people of Cyprus, not excluding the Turks, and Larnaka peacefully received the British navy and army in 1878 with Bishop Kyprianos of Kition warmly addressing the first High Commissioner, Garnet Wolseley.

The town was modernized, streets were paved, British colonial buildings were put up, the pier of the marina was built one year after the arrival of the new administration. Larnaka maintained its importance with a port that served the import trade and the administration of the whole island, the consulates with their European society, its juxtaposition of eastern and western elements. It was the first town to own a printing press and in September 1878 the first newspaper called "Cyprus" was circulated. At the same time the first post 1133 office was established with daily service between Larnaka and Nicosia. The construction of a new port in Famagusta and a railway connecting Famagusta with Nicosia in the 1930s were the main reasons of the gradual decline of Larnaka.

When Cyprus became an independent republic in 1960, the new government built a new port and a marina in Larnaka. The town had a mixed Greek and Turkish Cypriot population until the Turkish invasion in 1974 when thousands of displaced persons from the north took refuge into the town or the refugee camps around it and the Turkish Cypriots left for the Turkish occupied north. The population increased to more than 70.000 people. A new international airport was built in Larnaka and there was a great boom in the tourist industry.

Nowadays Larnaka is a pleasant town that combines the mysticism of the old era and the freshness of modern life enriched by attractive beaches. It can boast six museums with impressive collections within walking distance from the town centre and art galleries and workshops that are a real source of inspiration.


Larnaca during Venetian rule

From unpublished documents in the state archive of Venice

Nasa Patapiou

Historian-Researcher at the Cyprus Research Centre

Larnaka, a settlement created probably in the Middle Ages and more widely known as Aliki (Saline), together with the surrounding area, was always the focus of attention and interest not only during the years of Venetian rule but also during Frankish rule. The reasons were obvious because, apart from having a harbour, it was the centre of salt production, one of the main products of the island. The development of Aliki, and by extension Larnaka, had already begun in 1373, when the Genoese took Famagusta, the main harbour of Cyprus. Indeed, very near to Larnaka, and specifically at Aradippou, referred to as Radippo in a text of 1412, the Frankish kings built a royal residence where they entertained kings, princes, marquesses and nobles from the West, who put in to Aliki harbour, usually on their way to the Holy Land. In 1412, the Marquis of Ferrara, Nicholaos D'Este, arrived in Larnaka where the Frankish king of Cyprus received him and entertained him at the royal residence at Aradippou. This residence is also evidenced in a letter from King Hugh of Cyprus to the commercial agents in the town of Montpelier in France. This letter of King Hugh's bears, beside the date, the name Aradippou (Radippo) as the place of dispatch. Moreover another letter written at the beginning of the 14th century reveals to us that at Dromolaxia (referred to by the corrupt name of Vromolaxia) the Frankish kings of Cyprus, the Lusignans, had also built a royal residence.

The frequent raids by Saracens and pirates in general caused destruction both in Larnaka and the surrounding area. In 1426, when the Mamelukes invaded, many villages near Larnaka were pillaged and burnt. The royal residence at Aradippou was also destroyed then, an event recorded by the Cypriot chronicler Leontios Makhairas: "The Saracens burnt down Kellia and Aradippou and the entire summer residence of the king." Another important piece of information, also preserved by Makhairas, is the destruction of the tower house of Aliki. A tower house at Aliki, where the Captain lived, also existed in the period of Venetian rule, as the Venetian documents bear witness.

The Development of the Town during the Period of Venetian Rule

During the period of Venetian rule, Aliki was used as the main anchorage for Venetian ships, thanks to the adjacent salt lake, for the transport of that important product salt to Venice. The salt trade was extremely profitable at that period. Apart from the large quantities of salt which were produced on the island, the salt from the salt lakes of Larnaka was famous for its excellent quality - because, of course, salt was also exported at that time from the salt lake at Limassol. However, the salt from the Limassol salt lake was of inferior quality, as the sources testify, to that of Larnaka. The Podokataros family had a licence to exploit the Limassol salt lake, as did the Kornaros family. The growth of Aliki is certainly due not only to the sources of salt but also because it had an anchorage. For example, the French monk Nicolas Le Huen writes in 1467 that there is only one church at Aliki, the Byzantine church of St Lazaros (Saint Ladre) and an inn.

The situation seems to have changed completely, over barely twenty years. Thus the inhabitants of Famagusta saw with great consternation their fellow townsmen settling at Aliki and building houses and shops. Specifically in 1491, the Famagusta Community, through its representatives, submitted various demands to the Venetian authorities, to the Doge Augustino Barbarigo, for solution. The 7th demand of the Community is a follows:

The Community asks the Venetian authorities to forbid the Venetian administration of Nicosia and private persons to build dwellings and warehouses at Aliki to serve the merchants. They claim that if this prohibition does not take effect Famagusta will be denuded of its inhabitants as recently many of them have settled at Aliki because of the profit and the facilities to be found there in their transactions with the merchant ships which continually put in there. The Community of Famagusta came back with a new demand, number 18, and states the following: The loading and unloading of cargo should be allowed only at Famagusta and no ship should be allowed to load salt at Aliki but only at Famagusta harbour, where, for this reason, it should have the right to remain for two days without paying any anchorage and sailing tax. This measure will attract many new residents to the town by facilitating the conduct of their business transactions. The response of the Venetian authorities to this demand was of course negative.

The Captain of Famagusta, furthermore, wrote in 1509 that Aliki had grown into a populous place. Whereas, he writes, Aliki had had only three houses, it had suddenly grown and become populous. In 1529 the Venetian Lieutenant of Cyprus, Silvestro Minio, writes as follows about the growth of Larnaka: Aliki is now called the village Larnaka which is quite large with many residents whose numbers are constantly increasing; houses are continually being built and people are settling here because of the harbour which is busy with ships of all kinds from every country. Trade is continuously expanding and for this reason many shops and warehouses have been built in Larnaka.

In 1543, the Counsellor Dolfin reported that at Aliki no more than 600 people live, while the census of 1563 shows that the population of Aliki amounted to 1000 souls. It seems that one could attribute the growth of the new town of Larnaka, which essentially began in the years of Venetian rule, to the growth of Aliki. We can, then, according to the data we have at our disposal, maintain with certainty that the first residential nucleus of the new town of Larnaka, as it developed later, from village (casal) to town, is due to this early growth of Aliki in the years of Venetian rule.

During Venetian rule three districts of Cyprus were governed by Venetian Captains, as they are called in the documents. These districts were Kyrenia, which was governed by the garrison commander of the town, Paphos and Aliki. The secondment of Venetian patricians to these provincial posts was mainly due to military reasons: in the cases of Kyrenia and Paphos, because both towns had castles, and in the case of Aliki, because of its great economic importance on account of the salt and the anchorage - the most important Cypriot harbour then for the Venetian fleet. The growth of Larnaka would continue during the same period and, as we shall go on to observe, both Arnica, to use the name which we come across most commonly in the Venetian documents about Larnaka, and the surrounding area were made by the officials of the Serene Republic, naturally always with the approval of the metropolis, a military centre and a centre for guarding the coast. The look-out tower of Kiti, as well as those of Alaminou and Pyla in the same area, the building of houses for the light cavalry first at Aliki and then at Larnaka, the companies with the greatest number of light cavalry belonging to the coastguard both at Aliki and at Larnaka, are evidence of the above. Within the same framework of the growth of the specific area come the works at Aliki which were carried out by Venetian and Cypriot engineers and the appointment of a Venetian Captain of Aliki, i.e. that of the best possible concern in relation to the production of and trade in salt, but also generally the growth there of trade and shipping. The constant interest of the Venetian officials in Larnaka and Aliki is known to us through their correspondence, which is addressed to the Venetian authorities in Venice. They are documents containing valuable material as yet unpublished.

The Building at Larnaka of Quarters for the Light Cavalry

Before we proceed to the presentation of the new data concerning the construction during Venetian rule of a complex of houses in Larnaka for the light cavalry (the stradioti), it is worth looking at how these units were formed in Cyprus. From the middle of the 15th century the Venetians had been hiring for their wars mercenary soldiers, known in the Venetian sources as stradioti, from the Greek word stratiotis (ancient Greek stratia + the suffix otis) to form light cavalry. This cavalry was recruited from the Balkans and also from Venetian-held areas of Greece. These companies of stradioti were for the most part composed of Albanians whose ancestors had settled in Greece during the last years of Byzantine rule, especially after the 4th Crusade in 1204. The assimilation of the two elements, Greek and Albanian through their co-existence over the centuries, the use of the Greek language and the Orthodox religion of the Albanian stradioti, constitute the reasons why they are called Greek Albanians or Hellenised Albanians by distinguished historians.

At the end of the 14th century a wave of Albanians settled in Attica and, at the beginning of the 15th century the Despot of the Morea, Theodoros Palaiologos, allowed 19,000 Albanians to settle with their families, mainly in Arcadia, the Argolid and Elis. Valuing their abilities as fighters, the Venetians settled them in Methoni and Koroni. From the mainland areas of Greece the Albanians spread to the islands of the Saronic Gulf, the Cyclades, to Andros and Ios, and also to Euboea and the Ionian islands. When the Peloponnese was conquered by the Turks, many Albanians sought refuge in Southern Italy, Sicily, the Ionian Islands and Cyprus. Many of the movements of the Greek Albanians were due to both the defensive and the aggressive conflicts of the Most Serene Republic of Saint Mark with other peoples, mainly the Turks. During the period of Turkish rule the stradioti formed the outstanding cavalry of the Greeks and the Albanians. These companies, Greeks and Albanians together, under the common threat of harsh servitude, confronted the common enemy, the Turks, as irregular troops with separate commanders. They were extremely successful in battle due to the fearsome speed of their charge; they were tough, always sleeping in the open, and brave, wreaking havoc on the army they attacked. A large number of stradioti was concentrated at Aliki and Larnaka and these were, mainly, the brave defenders of Cyprus in the unequal struggle against the hordes of Lala Mustafa in 1570 -71. The Republic of Venice honoured the courageous stradioti with resolutions, rewarded them with pay increases, granted them land or positions or even made them knights. Many of those offering their military services were rewarded, as mentioned above, with a grant of land and in the course of time they became feudal lords or minor landed gentry. Their services to the Venetian state brought about the grant to the Greeks of the Church of St Vlasios in Venice so that they could fulfil their religious duties, the right to found an association and later permission to build a privately owned church, dedicated to St George, the patron saint of the stradioti.

There is also evidence of the presence of the stradioti in Cyprus during the period of Venetian rule in the reign of Queen Caterina Cornaro. As the chronicler Georgios Voustronios relates, when the Queen left Cyprus, dressed in black and with tears in her eyes, and with a crowd of people following her, she was escorted not only by foot soldiers (soldati) but also by a company of light cavalry i.e. stradioti. It is certain that the first companies were formed in 1487, while new troops were sent to Cyprus after the loss of Venetian possessions in the Peloponnese. Andreas Mavresis of Nauplion was the commander of the light cavalry of Cyprus, of the stratia, as it was called, from 1513 - 1525. In 1521, at the suggestion of Mavresis, the building began of thirty houses at Aliki to accommodate the stradioti who were responsible for guarding the coast. It is important to mention that the Russian monk Barsky, when he visited Cyprus in 1734 and went to the monastery of St Paraskevi at Vasileia, noted the following: "I saw inside the church the name of the founder and those of his wife and children, in a Greek inscription as follows: Andreas Mavresios, cavalryman." The building of houses at Aliki for the stradioti contributed to the better performance of their work, to the protection of trade and to the cracking down on smuggling. We discovered a letter written in 1565 by the Proveditor General and Syndic of Cyprus, Antonio Bragadin, which furnishes us with important information about the housing complex at Larnaka, work which Bernadin Bellegno, Counsellor to the King, refers to in his report on Cyprus in 1563. He writes: "In the village of Larnaka, which is next to Aliki, a fine complex of buildings has been constructed to be used as quarters for fifty stradioti. There are fifty houses round a large courtyard. Each house has its own well, stable and many amenities." Accommodating the stradioti in the complex made it possible for them to be concentrated in the same place so that they could be ready in the minimum of time should the need arise. Thus the light cavalry would be able to guard the coast and deal with enemy ships more effectively. A letter from Antonio Bragadin about this work by the Venetians at Larnaka is equally illuminating. As soon as he arrived in Cyprus he reviewed, he writes, first the companies of the citizen guard and then the companies of the light cavalry at Aliki, and he also visited the quarters of the stradioti at Larnaka. The building of these, he informs us, was the work of the Proveditor General and Syndic of Cyprus, Zuan Mattio Bembo (1561 - 1563). We note here that the energetic Proveditor Zuan Mattio Bembo was the nephew of the great humanist Pietro Bembo and father of Lorenzo Bembo, who also served as Proveditor of Cyprus and died in 1569. After his sudden death, one of the gates in the Nicosia walls was called Bemba in his memory. We will refer to Z. M. Bembo more extensively below, because the construction of Kiti Tower, the building of a house in Nicosia for the Proveditor, the repair of the Saint Nicholas Cathedral at Famagusta, destroyed by an earthquake in 1546, the finding and transporting to Famagusta of the sarcophagus known as the Sarcophagus of Aphrodite, and the execution of the rebel Iakovos Diassorinos etc. were all due to him.

These houses for the stradioti were built in such a way that they looked like a theatre i.e they were built like an amphitheatre round a large courtyard. There was only one entrance to the complex, next to which was the house of the commander of the stradioti. The space in the centre was so big that the cavalry could comfortably exercise there. As it was enclosed, the settlement provided safety for the families of the stradioti who had previously been exposed in the event of a pirate or other type of hostile attack. Also, the theft of salt by the stradioti was checked because it was now very difficult to leave the settlement during the night to steal salt from the neighbouring lakes. In any case, as we mentioned earlier, there was only one entrance and that was next to the house of the commander of the light cavalry, which obviously had a permanent guard. The creation of this complex at Larnaka relieved the Public Treasury of the payment of rent to secure housing for the light cavalry.

The new Proveditor General wrote to the Serene Republic requesting the sum of 400 ducats for the completion of the construction of the houses which his predecessor had not managed to finish, so that the stradioti who had not yet been provided with a house could be housed.

Development Works of the Venetians at Aliki by Venetian and Cypriot Engineers

The relevant material which is contained in unpublished documents of the State Archive of Venice is very informative and of inestimable value.

Aliki, a strong source of wealth with its precious product salt, received special attention and care from the Republic of St Mark. A plethora of letters from officials of the Most Serene Republic to the central authority, the so called Dispacci, as well as their extensive reports at the end of their two-year term of office, the famous and very valuable Relazioni, contain ma wealth of data about Aliki, such as the appointment of the Captain of Aliki, production, the work of collecting the salt and the method, floods at Aliki and the damage to production. There is also information about two torrents neighbouring on the salt lakes and the problems they created, development work at Aliki by Venetian and Cypriot engineers, the precise point of the salt lakes where the best salt was and a great deal of other information.

In 1527 the Counsellors to the King of Cyprus, Pietro Valerio and Marcantonio Trevisan, stressed that the Captain of Aliki must reside at Aliki itself because from time to time many thieves removed quantities of salt which were concentrated there for transportation by ship to Venice. They also pointed out that there were often disastrous floods at Aliki. Furthermore, the Lieutenant of Cyprus, Silvestro Minio, describes the salt lakes in his report and refers to the production of salt which is collected during the month of August. Minio divides the salt into fine (minuto) and coarse (grosso); the former is used for consumption on the island and the latter is exported. Every year, he writes, 30 -39 naves, i.e. large capacity ships, each carrying 600 barrels of salt, export this precious product to Venice. Sometimes, the Lieutenant continues, there is a lot of damage to the salt lake and the production of salt because of a torrent called Kolopanno, which perhaps should identified as the one known today as Kamares river. This torrent, writes the Lieutenant, has its source in the neighbouring hills and with the winter rains comes rushing down, bringing mud to the lakes, which flood. Years before, at the beginning of the 16th century, one quarter of the lake filled with mud because of this torrent. A lot of money was spent then and stakes and walls were erected to solve this problem. The situation, however, improved thanks to the genius and industry of the engineer Francisco Zacharia who in 1527 managed to divert the flow of the torrent away from the lakes and into the sea. This was done by the construction of a canal three miles long and anti-flood barriers. This work saved the salt lakes from the flow of the torrent which brought down mud and earth catastrophic to the salt. The work of Francisco Zacharia, according to Minio, was the salvation of the salt lakes because none of the salt production was lost. The sum of 800 ducats was spent on this work, plus 1200 ducats for the Francomati who took part as labourers in the diversion of the torrent. Furthermore, every year and at regular intervals, repairs to the anti-flood barriers were made, which work cost about 50 ducats.

A later Doge, Leonardo Donà, who lived in Cyprus from 1556 - 1558 when he followed his father here on his appointment as Lieutenant of Cyprus, gives us the following information about Aliki. The salt, he writes, is collected at a point outside Aliki and forms a large mountain. This also happened, as is well known, in modern times. He states that one hundred and sixty ships were used to export the product to Venice. Leonardo Donàalso refers to the work carried out at Aliki by the Venetian Nicolò Benendusio, whom he met and talked to. He mentions in particular that work was carried out to widen the bed of the torrents round the Petrokolymbos river. He also writes that the salt lakes flooded because of a conduit (legatura) which the feudal lord Eraclis Podokataros had constructed at Kiti. The Lieutenant of Cyprus Marco Grimani also refers to the flooding of the salt lakes in 1556. They tried in every way and with every kind of means to get the water out but according to the Lieutenant it was difficult and costly. The Doge then issued an order for the urgent draining of the salt lake. In his very informative report on Cyprus in 1557, Antonio Zane, Counsellor to the King of Cyprus, refers to the excellent Cypriot engineer Ioannis Sozomenos. He was an assistant and close associate of Giulio Savorgnano, the Italian military engineer from Friuli and also known as the Count of Ossopo, during the work on the fortification of Nicosia in 1567. He was also the author of a description of the siege of Nicosia by the Turks in 1571. We have located in the State Archive of Venice a fuller manuscript, which contains much more information than the one already published. His son Claudio was Bishop of Pola, in Istria. Antonio Zane writes that Ioannis Sozomenos devised a pump with which he managed to take huge quantities of water out of the salt lakes which had been flooded because of the torrent. Furthermore, according to the same man, some other machinery of high specifications as well as pumps had been invented by a Venetian engineer, Felice Brunello, with which it was easy to drain the salt lakes if they were flooded. The work which Brunello carried out at the salt lakes was very important, according to the Venetian Counsellor, because there had been a great deal of damage caused by the two torrents Petrokolymbos and Kolopanno, which had opened seven channels into the salt lakes and had flooded, bringing down water and mud, with the destruction of the salt as the direct result.

A letter of Felice Brunello's, in 1566, gives us more personal information about the man and the work which he carried out at the salt lakes. He also refers to the work done at Lake Constantia (lago di Constanza) i.e the lake of St Loukas at Famagusta, whose marshes were a serious problem to the town. Felice Brunello wrote to the Doge, explaining to him the important work carried out at the salt lakes with his contrivances and inventions when he was summoned in 1555 urgently by Venice to Cyprus to find a solution to the flooded salt lakes. He states that he was the inventor of excellent machinery with the help of which he had managed to drain the salt lakes. When he returned to Venice and presented his inventions, the Proveditors for Salt valued them highly and for this reason sent him to Cyprus again to supervise the salt lakes. The patents, which the Proveditor Zuan Mattio Bembo also saw, aroused his interest so that Brunello was summoned especially to the island to give a solution to the marshes of Lake Constantia as well.

As the person responsible for the work at the salt lakes, Brunello wrote in 1561 to the Proveditors for Salt (Proveditori al sal) that to stop the flow of water from the torrents into the salt lake, a small wall with stakes must be constructed up to Mount Patsalou (monte del Pazalo) as well as in the area of Yeromouttis.

He also asked for two permanent guards to keep a look out for damage to the flood prevention barriers. Their destruction was in any case, explained Brunello, due to the soil being sandy and because it turned to dust in the high temperatures and was brought to the salt lake by the wind.

An interesting piece of information about Aliki comes from an unpublished Venetian document. In 1562, according to a letter written by the Venetian Deputy Lieutenant of Cyprus Bernadin Bellegno and the Proveditor General Zuan Mattio Bembo, because of drought and the low water level in the salt lakes, the Captain of Aliki proposed that water should be added from the sea. This proposal was rejected by the Venetian administration of Cyprus but they allowed him to try out the plan experimentally in one area of the lake. Furthermore, another piece of information about the salt lake is mentioned by the Lieutenant Zuan Rhenier in 1559. He writes inter alia that the best salt in the salt lake was in the direction of the village Agrinou, while that of the Yeromouttis area was the worse quality.

Aliki and Larnaka: a Military Centre

As previously mentioned, during the period of Venetian rule Aliki had grown and Larnaka had turned from a village into a town. From 600 people in Larnaka in 1543, the census of 1563 recorded 1000 residents, a figure which included only male freedmen. There was also a strong coastguard at Aliki and Larnaka of companies of light cavalry. The Venetian authorities and in this case the Venetian administration of Cyprus had for obvious reasons to safeguard both the salt, a product so important to their economy, and the harbour of Aliki to protect their shipping and trade. Apart from the pirate raids which the island often suffered, there was also the constantly increasing danger of the powerful Ottoman Empire. The area of Aliki was a military centre from 1521, since it was there that the building of houses began for the stradioti, who were responsible for guarding the coast.

Later, in 1563, a whole complex had also been built for the stradioti in neighbouring Larnaka. We also note that the same place had a strong coastguard. According to the Captain of Famagusta Domenigo Trevisan, in 1561 there were 115 light cavalry at Aliki, while in the Limassol coastguard there were 98. Thus, the strong coastguard of the Larnaka – Aliki area was strengthened even more by the building of the look-out tower at Kiti.

Construction of Kiti Tower

As we have recently substantiated in our study, Kiti Tower was built in the last decade of Venetian rule in Cyprus. Moreover, from archive material we have also brought to light other previously unknown data about this tower and we have also identified the coats of arms carved on it. This small tower, which we could say is elegantly built, is on a rise near the sea, north of Cape Kiti and between Kiti and Pervolia, a settlement created much later. It is a four-sided structure, each side being about six metres long, and has two floors. Above the door of the tower there are two coats of arms as well as the winged lion, the emblem of Venice. It is a typical lookout tower. From here signals were sent to Aliki and Larnaka where there were coastguards with light cavalry for the defence of the area. Thus, in the case of the appearance of an enemy ship, the signals from the guard at the tower put the stradioti on the alert, to prevent a hostile landing and if necessary to defend the place.

Kiti Tower was the work of a Venetian official who bore the title of Proveditor General. From the unpublished report on Cyprus of the Venetian Counsellor Bernadin Bellegno, we are informed of previously unknown data about Kiti Tower. At Cape Kiti, Bellegno writes, His Excellency the Proveditor has built a stronghold as a lookout post, on which about 400 ducats were spent. The truth is, writes the Venetian official, that this is a very fine and strong tower. From the tower one can survey the sea eastwards to Cape Greco and westwards to Cape Mazotos, so that in the case of even a bird appearing it is impossible for it to escape the notice of the tower guard.

Moreover, another letter of the Venetian Proveditor General of Cyprus Bernado Sagredo, 1563, discloses that this tower was the work of his predecessor Zuan Mattio Bembo.

The construction of the tower must have been completed in 1563. The discovery of the builder of Kiti Tower helps us therefore to identify one of the two coats of arms as that of the Bembo family, wrongly described in the past as that of the Ragazzoni family. We identified the other coat of arms on Kiti Tower as that of the Gradenigo family.

The Repair of St Lazaros' Church in 1559

Unpublished Venetian sources also helped us to bring to light the connection between the triumphant victor of the sea battle of Lepanto (Naupactus) and subsequent Doge,Sebastien Venier and Cyprus, particularly Aliki and Larnaka. Until recently this connection and the activity of Sebastien Venier as a Venetian official in Cyprus during the period of Venetian rule had remained completely unknown. A number of unpublished documents, which we had the good fortune to locate, disclosed facts relating to the service of Sebastien Venier in Cyprus as Proveditor General and Syndic during 1558-1550.

Venier's letters written in Cyprus were addressed to the Doge Lorenzo Priuli and refer to the inspections he carried out of all the troops, harbours and the Pentadaktylos castles. As Proveditor General he collaborated with Ioannis Palaiologos, commander of the light cavalry at Aliki, and with the military engineer Giangirolamo Sanmicheli, who was working at that time on the fortifications of Famagusta, where he died in 1559 of marsh fever. Most of the information in Sebastien Venier's letters refers to Larnaka and the salt lakes, where he ordered flood-prevention work which was carried out. He mentions the Petrokolymbos torrent near the salt lakes, to which we have previously made reference. Of particular interest is his letter dated 26th January 1559 to the Doge, which refers to St Lazaros. The above document is unfortunately very damaged and is extremely difficult to read. Venier writes to the Doge that the salt lakes are under the protection of St Lazaros whose church is very close to neighbouring Larnaka.

This church, he writes, is in ruins and must be repaired because in the opinion of the people and also the notables St Lazaros is a miracle-worker and the patron saint of the salt lake. The church does not have a dome at all and one of the side walls is destroyed.

The repair of the church, as everyone believes in Cyprus, will put an end to the dreadful tribulations which have befallen them and to the disastrous floods which have occurred in recent years at the salt lakes. Venier submits a warm request to the Doge for permission to spend the sum of 200 ducats to repair the church of St Lazaros at Larnaka. This would, moreover, gladden the faithful.

The Doge did approve this request for the repair of the church of St Lazaros. After Venier's departure at the beginning of 1559 he was succeeded in the position of Proveditor General by Andrea Duodo, in the spring of the same year. In his letter dated 15th August 1559 Duodo informs the Doge that the repairs to St Lazaros' Church have been completed. He also informs him that on that very day he would give an order for a doxology to be celebrated in the church of the patron saint of the salt lakes and miracle worker, St Lazaros, and then the work of digging out the salt would begin. The information in the letter of Venier, and also in that of his successor Duodo, about the repair of the church of St Lazaros, the patron saint of Larnaka, is an indisputably important piece of information for the history of this Byzantine monument, the building of which goes back to the 10th century. Before the discovery of this important piece of information, the information we had about repairs to the church of St Lazaros, Larnaka, referred exclusively to the 18th century.

Finally, to sum up, we would say that these new facts about the salt lakes and Larnaka which we gleaned from the unpublished Venetian documents, throw a great deal of light on their history during the 16th century.


From "Cyprus Today" magazine, April -June 2009

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